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Rachel Herren

Protecting Children with Cybersecurity

Written by Rachel Herren

Before making the change to Cybersecurity, I had spent my entire career working with children who were victims of sexual and physical abuse. My position was as a Forensic Interviewer, working alongside Law Enforcement and Child Protective Services to interview children ages 3-17 in detail about their abuse. While the majority of the perpetrators in these cases were known to the children, there were quite a few cases of online exploitation, and it became very apparent very quickly how little children actually know about online safety and how their parents know even less.

In each interaction I had with non-offending caregivers, I would provide a list of apps to look out for and the best practices to help their children stay safe online, but within a few months, everything on the list would become obsolete and have to be replaced with new emerging threats.

Back in spring 2022, I started a program with the University of Colorado Boulder and ThriveDx to earn my Certificate in Cybersecurity so that I can become the one on the front lines for these threats instead of trying to follow along and catch up.  I worked for Digital Beachhead as my entry point as a cybersecurity professional, and I want to continue my journey to support and defend children in need.

The DQ Institute, an International “think tank” dedicated to setting global standards for digital education, outreach and policies, recently released their 2023 Child Online Safety Index, and one of the statistics that sticks out the most to me is that around 70% of children have experienced at least one Cyber-Risk (i.e. cyberbullying, online sexual behaviors, offline meetings, etc.) every year since 2017.

As technology continues to advance and move forward at a rapid pace, the strategies and techniques that predators use to target children online evolve just as quickly. Children are targeted because they have easy access to apps, video games, and the internet, and only have minimal knowledge of the risks associated.

Cybersecurity education is not only important but needed for our youth; they need to be informed about the most common passwords, how to spot phishing attempts, and keeping personal information private. My goal in the Cybersecurity field is to one day assist with building a Cybersecurity based program for children that teaches online education regarding topics that most programs aren’t usually comfortable touching (i.e. online predators and their techniques, pornographic images and how they can stay online forever, etc.), as well as computer programming skills, how to mitigate cyberattacks, and how to protect themselves and their identity online. We owe it to children to protect them and make the internet a safer place, and Cybersecurity is the way to make that happen.